March 25, 2010: “Well-meaning but clueless”

Today’s posting, the hardest to write, coincides with an obituary for “Courtroom Tony” in today’s Boston Globe. For 25 years, the never-married Tony Torosian daily showed up in Boston courtrooms to watch and listen; “almost religiously devoted to observing the operations of this court,” Judge Mark L. Wolf noted in Tony’s obit. Courtroom drama is exactly that. So I completely understand Mr. Torosian’s devotion.

The six or seven Nesto supporters from Friends Meeting at Cambridge  who religiously showed up at his trial were not there for the free show, however. Yes, of course we were there to show our support. But we were also—at least I was—white faces in that courtroom for the jury to see.

FYI: I have been a white face in a courtroom once before, four years ago, in a case of racial profiling and the Medford (MA)  police. Embracing my “White Supremacy Culture” values [see p. 29 of Way Opens], i.e. “worshipping the written word,” I sat in the front row busily taking notes. By the third day, a defense attorney told me: “You being here makes a difference.”

Part of me celebrates that people from my faith community—and others—sat in that courtroom every day. (It’s important to note that many of those same people had also helped to raise the $50,000 bail money so that Nesto could get out of jail two years ago. Halleluiah!)

But. But: Why should our white faces make a difference? In the midst of all the joy that Nesto’s been acquitted lies profound sadness for me. How incredibly sad that who’s sitting in a courtroom should be a factor, a player, in our criminal justice system, a system that overwhelmingly convicts men and women of color.

It’s tricky. Yes, absolutely, white people should be showing up, should be witnessing, should be a presence in every courtroom in this country when the defendant’s race is, in some significant way, an issue.* But as exhilarating as it is to think, “My presence could possibly make a difference,” any of us who decide to engage in this kind of witnessing need to be doing from a very deep, profound, humble, SAD place. Moment by moment we need to remind ourselves that we live in a country when, so painfully often, it is only when white people become engaged that things change.

That sucks.

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*I hope it’s obvious that I’m NOT talking about letting someone off because they’re black. But given the absolutely appalling behavior last weekend by the Tea Party crazies, thought I’d be really, really explicit.

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1 Comment

  1. *I hope it’s obvious that I’m NOT talking about letting someone off because they’re black. But given the absolutely appalling behavior last weekend by the Tea Party crazies, thought I’d be really, really explicit.

    Then rather than overcompensate for some ‘crazies,’ present and argue the facts of the case if you truly want to remove the ‘race’ factor, which you do seem to attribute to everything. Justice is fairness, so present the facts without regard to race if you want justice to be truly blind. It’s far from obvious that you’re equating race with automatic, unquestioned bias, as your argument fails to objectively address anything concrete pertaining to case aside from race itself. If you had presented the facts of the case, prosecutorial and defense, allowed for a verdict, and then stated the race and how it ties in, your case might be stronger. But, instead you victimize the defendant without accurately including the details of the case. No one argues that racism is still prominent in modern society from the south to the north, but based on your writing, you seem to contend that individuals should be subject to differential treatment based on race rather than the evidence uncovered, which, in itself undermines the very crux of your argument. Respectfully, a level-headed liberal.

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